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Creatures of habit

Horses are creatures of habit. They don’t like changes in their surroundings or to the things they are used to.

Of course, the same can be said for human beings. One example is congregational prayer. You are used to doing things and having prayers done in “the usual way.” When something is done differently, it provokes anxiety… even anger. “How can they do it this way?!”

When you are saying Kaddish, the memorial prayer for departed close family members, you must change that paradigm… especially if you travel. While we’ve been in Saratoga, I’ve been saying Kaddish for my father. This has required finding prayer services several times a day.

In some of my prior e-mails, I alluded to meeting “The Borg.” The Borg were a mechanized collective of beings who were antagonists in the TV series, Star Trek – The Next Generation. They would assimilate their enemies to gain new knowledge and grow the collective. The first time I attended a service at Yeshiva Machzikei Hadas, a Belz Yeshivah from Boro Park, Brooklyn, I felt like I had encountered The Borg. They (165 students in their teens plus staff) were all dressed in long silken black coats with belts, white shirts, black sox, black shoes, black velvet yarmulkes under their black hats (or fur hats for the staff). They were also a collective and their dress was reminiscent of the black metallic bodies of The Borg.

They probably also feel like “resistance is futile,” which was the motto of The Borg. In this case, it would be resistance to the precepts of their religious beliefs. Unlike The Borg, they are not malevolent. In fact, they have been welcoming. The Rabbi who is the head of the Yeshivah offered me an opportunity for a weekly telephone study session with him. The boys are curious about the stranger among them and many have warmed up to me over the last month.

I have also been welcomed by the mostly elderly membership of Congregation Shaara Tefille, currently a Conservative synagogue that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012. However, they only have services Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and the 3rd Friday night of each month. They too reminded of science fiction episodes where people forgot their origins of their heritage and were left with pieces of words from the past which they discovered had far greater meaning than they currently ascribed to them. So, the prayers are read with difficulty, short cuts are made and, sometimes, differing traditions are followed by different congregational leaders. Nonetheless, they are serious about their efforts and are filled with a warm camaraderie. This is the only organized year-round congregational services, so we joined this congregation. Of course, to keep saying Kaddish as often as possible, I most often go to the Yeshiva and have also attended services at the local Chabad which has had the fewest number of services available.

Anyway, the point is that one has to be very flexible and adapt in the opposite way to the way one goes about finding a congregation to join at home. At home, it’s where I feel most comfortable. On the road, it’s whatever is available, no matter how alien the surroundings or the mode of prayer. It really very instructive. I’ve gotten a new appreciation for all these different methods of expressing faith and prayer, and a greater level of respect for the different kinds of people involved. In a way, this has been a new lesson taught to me by my father. Thanks again, Dad! I love you and miss you… but you are with me always!


I know this is supposed to be about horses, but I hope you found this interesting. Don’t worry… a solicitation WILL follow!



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